Well sports fans, it is August and that means there is no NBA basketball. The dark times are upon us. We can still bicker about NBA basketball though. With rumors flying around related to the Phoenix Suns forward Markeiff Morris, who apparently wants nothing to do with the Suns, J.R. Smith still unsigned, and the Cavs big three being the only untouchable thing in the starting lineup I reached out to our esteemed staff to get some answers.
Q.) J.R. Smith remains unsigned, and while the Cavs appear to be the obvious landing spot, do you think they should bring him back? What is his impact on the team?
Jack Zink: I don't think it's a necessity that he is brought back, but I think the smart move would be to bring him back. You know what you're getting out of him, and when he's motivated, he becomes a serious weapon. He's a very good spot up shooter who can create his own shots, and is an underrated passer. He even wasn't a terrible defender! In fact, he was slightly better than average by the end of the season. Most importantly, he can provide instant offense, a skill the Cavs could use when they sit the big three.
Trevor Magnotti: The Cavs kind of have to bring J.R. back, and J.R. really kind of has to come back to the Cavs. This is basically just a staredown between the two sides, but the Cavs have all of the leverage in the world because of J.R.’s market. He won’t find a better fit or deal than the Cavs’ offer, and the Cavs are probably smart to not budge. They have the incentive to bring him back, because he’s simply better than everyone else on the market right now, but they also have zero incentive to give in negotiations, either.
Scott Recker: They should, not only because he adds versatility to the backcourt, but because it also keeps their options in terms of how they use the trade exceptions in the future more flexible, because they need another shooting guard immediately. I really like Shumpert and think he should start, but I don’t want to see the Cavs have depth issues in the beginning of the season. Besides in small sample sizes, I don’t think Mo or Delly should slide into the two and there’s not a good indication of whether or not Harris is ready to absorb meaningful minutes. J.R;’s a proven asset. Sure, he brings some unpredictability to the table, but he’s a great guy to have hovering around the three point line when defenders collapse on the lane. And with two hyper-aggressive ball-handlers, there’s quite a bit of value in that.
William Bohl: I have a hunch that what’s happening now is merely a stalemate over years and dollars. The Cavs have the upper hand, and J.R.’s agent is probably trying to save some face in light of the fact that he didn’t draw enough interest from another team to elicit a bidding war from Cleveland. Once Smith gets desperate enough, he’ll be back, and it’s definitely the right call for both sides. As far as his impact on the team, he’s one more shot-maker who can create some offense on either the first or second unit, thereby easing LeBron’s workload. As long as the team’s coaching staff and veterans can manage the crazy, he’s a worthy risk.
Justin Rowan: I think the Cavs should bring J.R. Smith back into the fold. The signing of Richard Jefferson makes me feel much more comfortable with the team’s wing rotation knowing that there is someone that can play both small forward and shooting guard that isn’t a complete corpse. While Iman Shumpert is likely still slotted in as the starter, Smith showed some defensive impact last season on top of his lights out shooting. With Williams and Jefferson on board, the odds that the Cavs will need to rely on Smith again are slim, but what he can bring in a sort of "gravy" role can swing a playoff game or series. As long as you aren’t banking on him, he’s good to have.
Ryan Mourton: Definitely agree with everything you guys are getting at here contract-wise, and fit wise. There isn’t anyone on the market or on the roster that fits or performs better than J.R., I think. Not for that role anyway. I’ve mentioned it in some previous pieces, but high percentage, high volume three point shooters are tough to come by, and J.R. is among the best.
Q.) Over the summer, and more recently, rumors have been floating out that Markieff Morris is looking to get away from the Suns. His salary fits into the Brendan Haywood trade exception. Do you think the Cavs should pursue him? Do they have the assets?
JZ: The more and more I think about it, the less I think the Cavs should consider this move. His talent is not in question, more so his attitude and how he can play without his brother. The Cavs already have one head case in Smith, but his actions don’t affect the team chemistry as much as they do himself. I’m worried the power of LeBron won’t hit Morris the same way that it did with Smith, leaving me with the feeling that the Cavs should stay away from this nightmare waiting to happen.
TM: Nooooooooooope. Count me out of trying to go get a power forward with a temper issue who is on trial for assault. Morris has picked fights with Suns coach Jeff Hornacek on multiple occasions, had a major issues with technicals, and is trying to strong-arm his way out of Phoenix even as he has a pending court case open. I can’t stress enough how much of a dealbreaker that is for me. I like the fit of Morris from a basketball perspective, and think he’d thrive on the court here. But ultimately, he’s got way more current issues than I would want around a team trying to win a title. Until he gets his issues resolved, I don’t want the Cavs to touch him.
SR: I’m a sucker for gritty wildcard power forwards with a mid-range game, so I’ll skip this question because I can’t answer it pragmatically … Nevermind. I’ll bite … No, because I want to see him reunite with his brother in Detroit. Imagine the possibilities. Stan Van Gundy. Both Morris twins. That makes the other teams in the East 250 percent more watchable during the regular season.
WB: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPE. I don’t know if the Cavs have the assets to actually make a deal happen, but even if they do, I want no part of Markieff Morris. Of all the players I’ve gotten to watch up close, he’s certainly got one of the shortest fuses, and regularly antagonizing officials, teammates, and coaches. Some of the Suns’ writers used to swear that ‘Kieff and his brother Marcus would only really look to pass one another the ball. In one game last season, Marcus was whistled for a foul, and disagreed vehemently with the call, arguing even as Andrew Wiggins went to the free throw line. In between the first and second free throws, the brothers switched spots along the paint so Markieff could have a turn yelling at the ref, too. They’re high maintenance, is what I’m saying. And if J.R. is back (as I am confident he will be), that’s enough of a crazy/unstable wild card for my taste. I’ll pass on Markieff Morris.
JR: I’m a little bit torn. Outside of depth at shooting guard a fourth big is still a glaring need for the Cavaliers. While Anderson Varejao might be able to play some spot minutes coming off his Achilles injury, you don’t want to rely on him. While Morris fits the need, I think this Cavs roster already has more than enough talent to win it all and bringing an explosive personality into the locker room should be avoided if at all possible. We are nitpicking with needs, and I don’t think it’s worth the risk. I’m fine with the kind of "problem" Smith can be within a team. I picture Smith making the Supertroopers pitch to the Cavs office when talking about his shenanigans in comparison to Morris: "Our shenanigans are fun and cheeky, his shenanigans are cruel and tragic". So while Morris would be a definite plus, I think it might be a case of too many cooks as well as an unnecessary risk. As far as them having the assets? Who knows. His legal case and apparent refusal to communicate with the Suns franchise has probably driven his value to rock bottom. But the NBA can be weird.
RM: This is really tough. It seems obvious that adding that personality with that baggage is a bad idea. He’s owed $32 million over four years. William’s accounts highlight my small sample viewing of the twins, which is "ugh". Looking at the Bright Side of the Suns article about him wanting out, its covered in red flags and links to other red flags on Morris’ sheet.
Then there is a side that thinks "what if it works?". Is the Cavs shooting their one shot with Haywood’s deal worth it? Is getting him for basically free (if he is indeed that toxic) a good thing, or a major sign? If everything goes right, Morris is insurance for an injury to any of the Cavs bigs, plays the three on offense, four on defense style that’d work well with LeBron, and would give the Cavs a ridiculous amount of talent. That is quite a few ifs though and a huge bet to take.
Q.) Other than the 'Big Three, there *seems* to be some room for debate in the Cavs starting lineup for next season. Assuming Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith both return, who would you put around the Cavs stars at tip off?
JZ: Mozgov and Smith. As well as the Cavs played in the second half of the season last year, it's hard to go against what was working for them in the starting five. In fact, the Cavs’ starting lineup had a net rating of plus-19.3, the second best among five-man lineups who played at least 300 minutes, and just *slightly* behind the Golden State Warriors starters. Thompson will most likely still be the guy to finish the game, but I like him better coming off the bench than I do Mozgov coming off the bench. So yes, if it isn't broke, then it shouldn't be fixed.
TM: I’d still want J.R. and Mozgov as the starters with TT and Shumpert off the bench, to start out. The Mozgov/Love lineup was really effective last year in the regular season, and I think he works better as a starter where he can work against more technically skilled centers as opposed to more athletic bench bigs, who he struggles against. And I’m a huge fan of the shop-wrecking lineup that was Irving-Smith-Shumpert-LeBron-Thompson to end the first quarter because it puts all of the Cavs’ best athletes on the floor at once in a lineup that has more talent than most starting lineups in the league. The pace shift that occurs there is a good advantage for the Cavs to have, as well.
WB: Delly and Joe Harris. But really, though, Kyrie, Love, and LeBron should head out there with Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov to begin games. J.R. Smith will be playing with a seasoned backup point guard (Mo Williams) on the second unit, so you can put him there without worrying about him highjacking too many possessions. I like Shumpert alongside Kyrie much more than Shumpert with Mo Williams or Delly. And even if Mozgov starts, Tristan Thompson will almost certainly play more fourth quarter and crunch time minutes regardless. Might as well get the big Russian some early burn before he spends most of the final frame on the bench.
SR: Shumpert, because his defense and length give him the possibility to take on the toughest wing matchup. He’s still young and I think there’s a lot of upside yet to be uncovered, but I think his catch-and-shoot ability will increase or at least become more stable right away. And Mozgov, because of the way he protects the rim and how he is in constant motion on offense — setting screens, only being in the paint when he’s supposed to, spacing the floor (a bit) with his improving mid-range game. But, ultimately, I hope that, at the beginning of the season, there’s enough depth and coaching prowess that it doesn’t really matter who starts, because they hypothetically have the pieces for sharp in-game adjustments in about every scenario.
JR: I really want to see the starting lineup of Irving, Shumpert, James, Love and Thompson. I think that lineup just has so much speed and mobility and Thompson provides the perfect partner for Kevin Love. Lineups featuring the big three and Thompson last season were among the league's elite four man lineups and it’s tempting to want to give your best punch at the start of games. That being said, I would be fine with Mozgov getting the nod in the same way he did last season. Thompson will still play basically the entire fourth quarter to close out games at center and the bulk of the minutes there, but Mozgov does need and deserve his minutes at center and can’t make-up some as a backup power forward in the same was Thompson can. But assuming Shumpert is healthy, I have a hard time picturing him not in the starting lineup on opening day.
RM: I think I would go with J.R. and Mozgov as well. I get Shump and to a lesser extent Thompson, I think. The Cavs lineup after the break was just too good though, and I want more of it. J.R. is such a good volume three point shooter, and the spacing with he, Kyrie, and Kevin Love on the floor at once is absurd. The last half of the season, the Cavs were partial to sitting LBJ down early. If you sit him and J.R. together, and bring in Shump and RJ I think that still keeps a pretty strong all around lineup on the court. Maybe.
Really I’m just glad we have ideas like these to kick around as opposed to the horror of the last few seasons. We’ll convene again when the next interesting thing happens. In the meantime, please keep an eye out for the podcast and enjoy everything else we’ve got coming up in the short term.